Agreeableness and Success

I think that when it comes to the work place I might be in the minority because even though I like my co-workers to be agreeable, I’d almost take competence to agreeableness.  I like to have a good discussion about the pros and cons of various ways to proceed on projects and I get frustrated when these important discussions don’t happen because the group prefers being easy to being good.  Don’t get me wrong though, I don’t like working with someone who is negative and/or nasty.  I just don’t value being agreeable over all other traits.   For this reason it did not surprise me when the article “When Nice Guys Finish First” by Daisy Grewal confirmed that while most employers prefer to hire agreeable employees those same employees are less likely to get promoted and tend to make less over all.  Of course this result may stem from the agreeable person’s orientation to good relationships, which seem to have a positive impact on the quality of their lives as,  “Findings from the field of personal psychology suggest that nice people tend to have stronger relationships, better health, and superior performance at school and on the job.”

In spite of these genuinely good life outcomes for the agreeable the advice in the article is that the nice guys (and girls) should use more assertive language and project confident body posture.  I honestly don’t know that I agree with the wisdom of trying to change others perceptions by focusing on posture and wording.  For while this may be a fun exercise I think that our posture unconsciously gives us away and that these signals developed naturally for a reason.  Our posture is a form of communication that accurately depicts us as we truly are and trying to artificially “make expansive gestures”, as the article suggests may backfire and cause a person to come across as unnatural or as giving mixed signals.  The more I read about how a person is supposed to change one aspect of their behavior in order to communicate that they are something they are not, the more I think that the place to truly change these attributes is to begin with your internal mental space and not the external representation of that space.

Personally, I am trying to develop myself as both agreeable but also willing to be assertive on improvement and quality of work.  I think that encouraging a team to challenge each other in a constructive and professional way is the only method that will get a team to truly function at a high level.  Without that level of challenge a team will be content to coast along at a happy mediocre consensus.  I think that this ability for a team to both be agreeable, yet willing to host dissent, comes from a corporate culture that encourages trust as well as setting up the team with the expectation that they will effectively engage in creative conflict.

There is my opinion then on agreeableness.  It is an important characteristic that need not limit a person’s success, but not because of artificial attempts at aggressive posturing.  Instead I think it is important to realize that challenges can be fun and a growth experience for everyone if the challenges are made in the right way and there is trust among team members.

Anyone disagree with this?  Is that an odd challenge to throw out to the ultra-agreeable of us out there?


One thought on “Agreeableness and Success

  1. I agree with you, but as I’m discovering it takes the proper management to guide this sort of team. I was a manager under the state system of liquor stores. Now, via a promise of later glory, I’m an assistant manager. Yet, I think that the owners put more weight on my opinions than they do the manager’s opinions. I’m not certain whether this is because of my vision or because I’m male and the manager is female. It’s difficult, I do not want to step on the toes of my manager and at the same time I want to see the store succeed.

    My goal is to influence the direction of the company without seeming overbearing for the stores. I think that I have a pulse on the owners and we’re open to discussion and debate.

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